I hesitate to talk about myself. It has taken my beloved wife more than 40 years to instill in me the idea that egotism is a dangerous thing, and that even the appearance of this evil should be avoided. But here is the story of what I believe about myself, relative to the world I have lived and toiled in for more than half-a-century.
I shall confess at the start that I was born an idiot, like everyone else. But in the course of time, I developed a modicum of brains, so that I arrived at a new era of my life. I call this the “era of complete knowledge,” because during this time I was sure that I knew everything. The first awakening from this dream came from one of my teachers in college, who called me an “insolent, young puppy.” Another awakening came from President Theodore Roosevelt, who had invited me to lunch at the White House to talk to him about my novel, The Jungle, which had stirred up a worldwide cyclone. He said, later, to my publisher, “Tell that young man to go home now and let me run the country.”
I have been asked how I feel about a lifework of pulling against the current. Though it did feel that way most of the time, I believe that the stream of history was always with me, and that now it has caught up with me. Today that stream is rushing fast, but it does not cause me to fear or despair. Perhaps this is because I am heir to a family tradition. My family was once called “the fighting Sinclairs,” because so many of them had been in the Navy. I was brought up on the tradition of willingness to die, if necessary, in the cause of freedom.
There was another strong influence in my young life which was somewhat different from the spirit of the Navy. It was the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. I became a devout little Episcopalian at 13 or so and went to church every day during Lent. I taught a Sunday school class and took all my youthful problems to a young clergyman for solution. There was a wholesome, warmhearted zeal for righteousness in him which deeply impressed everyone, especially the fifty or so youngsters who were his special concern.
When I was an adult writer, I joined the ranks of the men and women who, in those days, were called the Muckrakers. I have been a Muckraker ever since. I was dangerous to the targets of my exposes, but I was never a Communist and I was never an advocate of violence. I had won my victories by exposing evils, and I have continued ever since to use a pen instead of a sword. The result is that as the years of my life have passed, I have learned to love the Democratic process more and more, as the means to the end of social welfare and progress.
Bernard Shaw wrote, “When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair’s novels.” I live today in a changed America. I believe that my books and my life helped to change it.